Refusing to love the sinner
January 3rd, 2014
I’ve long derided the glib phrase, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”.
First, I don’t think there is anything inherently sinful in homosexuality, especially lived in a responsible, mature and spiritual way. But that isn’t my objection; you can define sin however you like.
Believe me, growing up the son of a Pentecostal pastor, it seemed like most everything was either sin or right up next to it: movies, television, secular music, dancing, playing cards (but just the kind with clubs and diamonds, not the kind with old maids), boys going shirtless, boys and girls swimming together, and of course smoking and drinking and sex outside marriage. And if anything new came along, you’d better put it on the sin list just to be safe.
But those were ‘things Christians don’t do’, not things that you lobbied and tried to ban in Caesar’s realm. So if you want to think something is sin, by all means don’t do it. Just stay out of my life and my rights (and my Ketel One martini, dry with two olives).
No, my problem with the phrase is that it has mostly been a lie, a claim that was mocked by the actions of those making it. Never did I see much love directed toward the “sinner” and it seems that all the hate was directed not towards whatever sin was imagined that he engaged in, but rather toward the one who was imagined to be doing it.
Love the sinner? Fire him! Love the sinner? Take away her children! Love the sinner? Ban his marriage rights! Love the sinner? Bully her in the school hallways! Love the sinners? Don’t let them eat cake!
But Micah Murray, writing at Huffington Post, gives another reason why this trite phrase will no longer pass his lips. Murray still considers homosexual acts to be sinful, but he now sees that by focusing on the sin of gay people, you don’t see the people of gay people.
And despite all my theological disclaimers about how I’m just as much a sinner too, it’s not the same. We don’t use that phrase for everybody else. Only them. Only “the gays.” That’s the only place where we make “sinner” the all-encompassing identity.
Then we try to reach them, to evangelize them. We speak of “the gays” in words reminiscent of the “savages” from those old missionary stories — foreign and different and far away, the ultimate conquest for the church to tame and colonize and save.
Maybe we accept them in our midst. But even then, it’s sinners in our midst — branded with a rainbow-colored scarlet letter. They aren’t truly part of us.
Even that word “them” makes me cringe as I speak it, as if my brothers and sisters are somehow other, different from me.
It’s a special sort of condescending love we’ve reserved for the gay community. We’ll agree to love them, accept them, welcome them — but we reserve the right to see them as different. We reserve the right to say “them” instead of “us.” We embrace them with arms full of disclaimers about how all the sinners are welcome here. And yet, they’re the only ones we constantly remind of their status as sinners, welcome sinners.
And sadly, that is quite true.
I still find Micah’s position to be less than ideal. For all his efforts, it’s clear that he is still clinging to gay=sin. But I applaud his honesty and his desire to set aside the weights that hold him in a place of condemnation.
He is in an in-between place. But if more of conservative Christendom were in that place, my life would be easier.